Healthcare System's Unresolved Challenges

While no one likes going to the hospital it is a moment of relief for many of the people who step through their doors. Patients assume at the very least that they are now in the custody of a responsible and prepared party.

Often they are right. Doctors and nurses are heroes and the care they administer saves thousands of lives every single day. 

However, it’s also no secret that the world of healthcare has experienced a lot of challenges in recent years— problems that are having a direct impact on patient outcomes. The pandemic shook hospitals to their cores in the form of resource depletion and cripplingly high turnover rates. 

However, more than two years out of the pandemic we can no longer blame Covid for all of our healthcare-related issues.

What issues do our nation’s hospitals need to answer for and fix? Are there sustainable solutions?

In this article, we take a look at a few of the most prominent issues American hospitals are still facing in 2024. 

Staffing Shortages

You’ve probably been hearing about nursing shortages for so long now that it just feels like white noise. There are also contradictory reports that complicate the way people perceive the problem. 

Toward the end of 2023, a study was published indicating that the United States has about 1 million nursing job vacancies. 

Around that same time, National Nurses United contradicted the report, saying that there were more or less enough nurses in the country to fill any vacancies. 

Who is right?

Well, it depends on how you view the issue. There ARE adequate Registered Nurses. They just don’t work in nursing anymore— or at least not on hospital floors. 

The staggeringly high vacancy figure is coming directly from what hospitals report. They can’t keep their floors staffed because nursing has a notoriously high turnover. More than half of all nurses leave the profession entirely within five years. 

This shortage— whether you prefer to think of it as a nursing-specific problem or a broader labor issue— is destructive for patient care. 

While many hospitals are doing what they can to improve retention there have been no significant improvements even after years of effort. 

Preventable Error

A recent study found that 250,000 people die from preventable medical errors every year. To put that in context, this figure accounts for 10% of the deaths in the country each year. It’s a shocking number— though one that does require context. 

Uncomfortable though this fact may be, some degree of error is unavoidable in medicine. This isn’t to say that the mistake itself couldn’t have been prevented— just that it isn’t possible to prevent humans from making mistakes 100% of the time. 

Still, the number of errors that do take place is alarmingly high and there isn’t adequate transparency around why that is. 

One culprit certainly could be staffing-related. Shortages put a strain on all aspects of healthcare. Doctors and nurses have to stretch their resources to treat the same number of patients. It can justifiably lead to more mistakes being made. 

Inaccessibility of Care

This is the original sin of Western healthcare. Costs are staggering even for people with insurance. An accident or unfavorable diagnosis can very easily result in five figures worth of hospital bills. An average of ten percent of adults report carrying medical debt at any given time in the United States. 

To make matters worse, healthcare costs are only on the rise. Rates went up by more than fifteen percent over the last decade. 

People without insurance naturally have an even harder time attaining affordable care. 

However, price is not the only barrier to getting medical attention. Some people have the financial resources to get treatment but lack ready access to care providers. 

We hear about this issue most often in rural America. Rural hospitals often service massive geographical regions. A person living out in the country might be thirty minutes away from the nearest care provider. 

In the event of an emergency, this is naturally a big problem. Even for routine care, it can be a significant barrier. 

People without access to transportation cannot regularly access a remote hospital. Unfortunately, the problems rural hospitals face are not new, nor do they have an obvious solution. 

Why is Healthcare So Expensive?

While it’s difficult to pinpoint any single factor there are a few potential explanations for why the cost of care continues to experience such dramatic increases. One of these explanations is simply inflation. 

Almost everything has gone up in cost a little bit over the last few years and medical supplies and resources are no exception. 

Technological developments are another potential culprit. While technology ultimately allows hospitals to do more with fewer resources it is also very expensive. That cost is inevitably passed on to patients. 

A Note of Positivity

It’s certainly not fair to say that Western healthcare is an unmitigated disaster. The United States has some of the most distinguished doctors on the planet. What’s more, technological breakthroughs continue to improve patient outcomes. 

Digital health records make it much easier to communicate your health history with doctors anywhere in the world. It also makes it easier to track your results and do independent research where you see fit. 

AI is also making a splash in healthcare. There are now programs out there that can make diagnoses and even rapidly interpret the results of a wide range of tests. 

These technologies can help reduce wait times which may eventually have an enormous impact on how certain conditions are treated. 

Medicine continues to improve. Data taking, processing, and implementation are as good as it has ever been. 

The list of positives could go on and on. However, they ultimately don’t matter to families who have been negatively impacted by the healthcare system’s deficiencies. 

Unfortunately, it’s often low-income families or racial minorities who experience these hardships the most. There are well-documented issues with how care is administered to African Americans and other minority groups. 

As the healthcare system works on improving its systemic problems, it would do well to make a point of ensuring improved integrity when it comes to sensitivity training and cultural competency. 

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